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Mario Merz (1925-2003)
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Mario Merz (1925-2003)

Iguana

Details
Mario Merz (1925-2003)
Iguana
stuffed iguana, neon, transformer
86 5/8 x 6¼ x 4 in. (220 x 16 x 10 cm.)
Executed in 1971
Provenance
John Weber Gallery, New York.
Private Collection, New York.
Hans Mayer Gallery, Dusseldorf.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Literature
Exh. cat., Mario Merz, Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris, May - September 1981 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., Mario Merz, Nagoya, Institute of Contemporary Art, 1988 (p. 66 illustrated).
R. Barnes, The 20th-century art book, London, 1996, p. 388 (illustrated in colour pl. 304).
L. Gamwell, Exploring the invisible. Art, science, and the spiritual, Princeton/Oxford, 2002, p. 277 (illustrated pl. 278).
Exhibited
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Mario Merz, January - March 1972, no. 7.
New York, John Weber Gallery, De Europa, April - May 1972.
Vienna, Galerie nächst St. Stephan, Über Mario Merz, October - November 1983, p. 104 (illustrated p. 140).
San Marino, Palazzo Congressi ed Esposizioni, Mario Merz, November - January 1984, no. 59 (illustrated p. 70).
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Mario Merz, September - November 1989, no. 55.
Barcelona, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Mario Merz, March - June 1993, no. 10, pp. 64-67 (illustrated in colour).
Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Die Epoche der Moderne. Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, May - July 1997, no. 304 (illustrated in colour p. 388). London, Tate Modern, Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972, May - August 2001, no. 84 (illustrated in colour p. 256). This exhibition later travelled to Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, October 2001 - January 2002; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, April - September 2002 and Washington, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, October 2002 - January 2003.
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Lot Essay

An important early work first shown at the John Weber Gallery in New York in 1971 and later as a part of his first installation in an American museum at the Walker Art Center Minneapolis in 1972, Iguana is one of the very first of Merz's works to use the Fibonacci sequence. Progressing down the wall from the tail of a stuffed iguana, this sequence of numbers - a sequence in which each number is the sum of the previous two - extends into the space of the room in the form of an illuminated trail of neon lights grounded against the solid wall. In so doing the work transforms the cold and austere mathematics of the architectural space into a seemingly mystical and organic entity of light and potential.

The Fibonacci sequence, invented by the Italian mathematician Leonardo da Pisa in 1202, is an organic mathematical progression - two 'parental' numbers giving rise to a third - that is echoed closely in nature. Da Pisa discovered that this simple sequence, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and onwards to infinity, could be used to calculate the offspring of rabbits. Its proportions also relate to the proliferation and growth of many organic materials, among them such elements that appear frequently in Merz's work as leaves, reptile skins, deer antlers, pinecones, seashells and iguana tails.

The sequence, as formalised by Merz into energising but also dimensionless neon light, is an enlivening organic force that speaks of a potential development or extension into infinity. It is an organic extension of light and space into infinite space but also a metaphor for the development of life. The sequence proliferates with such accelerating scale and rapidity that, as Merz recalled, it 'inspired my idea that it was possible to represent with new faculties all the examples that occur in the world of expanding materials viewed also as vital living lives.' (Mario Merz cited in Mario Merz exh.cat. Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1989, p. 102) Numbers Merz insisted, and particularly those of the organically progressing Fibonacci series, because they are 'a relative extension of the body through the five fingers', have an innate relativity to life that 'excludes the psychological but not the physiological extension'. The Fibonacci sequence could therefore be used as a way of 'unloading' or transforming space. 'A wall is a load (bricks, stones, lime, historical anxieties, psychological anxieties)' Merz explained, referring to works like Iguana. 'The numbers unload it the way music unloads the chemical density of the atmosphere. Music too has mathematical or numerical equivalences. Time is a tap root immersed in the ground (the date of birth). Time then develops in an objective and relatively free reality the way the tree develops from the tap root into the atmosphere.' (Ibid)

In this way, the presence of a sequence of organically developing neon numbers 'growing' along the wall notionally transforms the wall into an organically developing entity like that of a tree and the gallery space into an interior not unlike those posited by Merz's igloos. The presence of an iguana ascending the wall of such an environment and being the 'tap root' of this sequential organic development of space is therefore not as surprising as it may at first seem. For Merz, the iguana, like the crocodile that he later made for a similar Fibonacci series installation, (now housed in the Centre Pompidou, Paris), is one of a series of archetypal creatures that speak of a primordial past, cohesion and wisdom existing beyond the artifices of the modern world. 'These figures are mythical not domestic,' Merz explained. What he was drawn to was their 'slightly unsettling image and presence of a ghost rather than of a skin. These animals made me feel light in life, because they have something ancient about them, a sense of the unknown, of unavailability as far as I am concerned. They are absolutely solitary creatures, they do not participate in the collective life of the street. The animals are all those things combined.' (Mario Merz cited in Mario Merz exh.cat. Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1989, p. 54)

A suitably surprising and inscrutable presence climbing the wall, the stuffed iguana is therefore an appropriate source root for the trail of infinitely expanding numbers it leaves behind it. An animistic and shamanic presence, Iguana is a work that permeates the space that it inhabits with a mysterious and magical aura of possibility.

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